“We Believe” seems like it was so long ago. Since the Warriors’ shocking 1st-round upset and follow-up successful 07-08 regular season (the team missed the playoffs, but won 48 games, more than the 4th-seeded team in the East), the Warriors have been a mess. Baron Davis and the rest of the gang left, the team lost anything resembling interest in playing defense or rebounding, and the offense stopped working smoothly.
With Don Nelson and his replacement, Keith Smart, both gone, and former President of Basketball Operations Robert Rowell gone as well, the Warriors are looking for a fresh start. Here’s what they need to do in order to get their new regime started on the right foot:
1. For the love of God, play defense
Defense is really important, and the Warriors don’t play it. The Warriors were a run-and-gun team when they were successful, but they weren’t as abysmal defensively as they have been over the last few years. In the last three seasons, the Warriors have finished 28th, 29th, and 26th in defensive efficiency. If the team wants any hope of becoming successful, they need a complete defensive overhaul.
New coach Marc Jackson has said all the right things about defense since his hiring, and head assistant Mike Malone has a good defensive pedigree, but defense is about more than “effort” or “hustle” in the NBA. It’s about having a solid defensive scheme, and players who are willing and able to make that scheme work. With all the money the Warriors have in defensive liabilities like David Lee and Monta Ellis, they won’t become a solid defensive unit overnight.
Still, the team does have some promising defenders like Ekpe Udoh, and if they make defense a priority going forward on the court and in their personnel moves, they could return to respectability.
2. Figure out what to do with Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins
Ellis scores at a superstar rate, and can score with superstar efficiency at times. However, he’s undersized, isn’t a passer, and may be the worst perimeter defender in the NBA. Ellis has his passionate believers, but the simple fact is this — if Ellis was that good, the Warriors would not have been so bad when Ellis was given a blank check for both minutes and shot attempts. The Warriors have been shopping Ellis and opting to keep Steph Curry, who is both the better passer and the more efficient scorer, but they’ve been having trouble finding takers on Ellis’ nightmare contract.
Biedrins was once one of the most promising young centers in the NBA, but injuries and the complete deterioration of his free-throw stroke have turned him into a borderline rotation player. When Biedrins goes to the free throw line, horrifying things happen, and it’s had a negative impact on every aspect of his game. If Biedrins can get back to being aggressive offensively, attacking the boards defensively, and making around 60-65% of his free throws (why not give underhanded a try, as Don Nelson suggested?), he’s worth keeping. If not, the Warriors will have the unenviable task of trying to shop both Biedrins and Ellis, who are owed a combined $20 million a year through the 2013/14 season.
3. Get the offense flowing again
Having a run-and-gun offense isn’t just about shooting the ball up as fast as you can. There needs to be some organization to the chaos, and the Warriors haven’t had it. The team wasn’t much better than average offensively last year, and they need to make their offense the relentless, terrifying machine it was in Nelson’s first two seasons as coach by passing and spacing the floor effectively, not just gambling for steals, forcing breaks, and jacking up shots in the first 7 seconds of the shot clock, even if they’re tough ones. If the Warriors can do any of those things, it will be time to Believe again. But with the team’s thrown-together roster and second new coach in as many years, things might not happen overnight for them.